After 15 seasons in New Orleans, one unforgettable Super Bowl run and a host of shattered offensive records left in his wake, Sean Payton has decided to step away from the franchise he helped turn from an afterthought into a perennial contender. While rumors swirled for weeks that such a move could be made, that still doesn’t take the shock factor out of a decision that should reverberate far beyond the Saints over the coming years.
Where does the front office go from here though? While it will be strange to see somebody other than Payton and his trademark visor roaming the Superdome sidelines in 2022, the team itself is at a crossroads needing a complete teardown and rebuild. Memories of Super Bowl XLIV are long in the rear-view mirror, franchise cornerstones are out the door and an unfathomable cap situation make the challenge of being the guy after the guy in New Orleans as tricky as ever.
Here are a few candidates who could still find a home down the street from the French Quarter and wind up leading the black and gold out of the tunnel in September:
The Internal Candidates
Dennis Allen, Saints defensive coordinator
Continuity can often be a good thing and Allen knows the building about as well as anybody having spent years running the team’s defense — a real strong point lately. His tenure in charge of the Raiders didn’t go super smoothly but then again, whose has? He’s viewed as the favorite to replace Payton either way.
Pete Carmichael, Saints offensive coordinator
It’s not often an assistant stays anywhere over a decade but Carmichael has been in the building since 2006 and served 13 years as Payton’s OC and right-hand man. He’s still only 50 and has had a hand in keeping the team rolling on that side of the ball. His personality isn’t quite what his old boss’ was but perhaps that is a key selling point to go with the continuity.
Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator
Few can slap a resume down on the table that comes close to Payton’s before he was tapped to be a head coach but Daboll might come pretty close. His Buffalo offenses have been creative and prolific while earning plaudits around the league for the way he’s turned Josh Allen from one of the rawest of QBs into maybe one of the very best. He's one of the most in-demand candidates this cycle but would make perfect sense for the organization.
Leslie Frazier, Bills defensive coordinator
The veteran coordinator has turned out a mean defense pretty much everywhere he’s been and gotten heavily involved in this year’s coaching carousel as a result. He made it to the playoffs with the Vikings in a rebuilding phase and is one of the rare folks with Super Bowl rings as a player and a coach. He could bring just the right amount of gravitas back into the football building after such a leadership vacuum following Payton’s departure.
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator
Could this be the one for Bieniemy? After a number of interviews over the years, it would be hard to find an opening that would more closely align with what the New Orleans-born OC is looking for. His penchant for creativity putting together game plans would fit in well with the Saints roster and he could provide a nice complement to the already feisty defense the team has.
Todd Bowles, Buccaneers defensive coordinator
Poaching from a division rival can help your team in two different ways, as would be the case with Bowles. He’s done a fantastic job with the Buccaneers' defense and the relative success he found running the Jets is likely viewed quite positively given the franchise’s struggles. He’s been around Tom Brady, Bruce Arians, etc. enough to know that finding a creative OC to match would be a key to long-term success with the Saints.
Matt Eberflus, Colts defensive coordinator
Indianapolis would hate to lose Eberflus, who has done a fantastic job between the lines while turning unheralded players like Darius Leonard into All-Pros. His defenses have generally been in the top 10 in the league across the board and he has a lengthy college background that could be handy given the amount of roster churn upcoming. He’s a finalist for several other gigs so the Saints may have to hustle to see if he’s the right fit.
Mike McDaniel, 49ers offensive coordinator
The Kyle Shanahan system has blossomed into quite the force around the league lately (just look at the playoffs) and McDaniel seems one of the next in line to go from young OC to head coach. He’s worked his way up the ranks and went to school at Yale, making him a rare combination among his peers. Though he’s not a play-caller, he’s earned a lot of praise around San Francisco for his work with players on and off the field.
Aaron Glenn, Lions defensive coordinator
There are a host of former players coming up for HC spots and Glenn makes a logical fit to garner interest in New Orleans, where he both played and coached. It’s still a bit early to figure out what he can do as a defensive coordinator given the personnel limitations in Detroit but the Saints would have to understand that he could be someone that connects well to the locker room while helping the team’s scheme evolve.
Former NFL Coaches
Doug Pederson, former Eagles head coach
Pederson has been waiting for the right gig to return to the NFL with and what better one than the Saints for the former Louisiana-Monroe QB who coached high school ball in the state. His aggressive nature would play well in the Superdome and it’s not often there are Super Bowl-winning coaches you can quickly pick up to replace your longtime leader.
Brian Flores, former Dolphins head coach
Flores was a surprising exit out of Miami but the way he took the franchise from the bottom of the standings to near playoff contention almost overnight has to impress Saints brass. He comes from the Belichick tree which would be a change of business around New Orleans but could work wonders for what this reboot needs. He certainly would have the personality to fill Payton’s shoes and command the respect of the roster early in his tenure.
Doug Marrone, former Jaguars head coach
A former Saints assistant who took Jacksonville to a conference title game probably can’t be ignored. He’s gone through the Nick Saban coaching rehab clinic at Alabama and helped the team make it to the national title game despite being in a "rebuilding" year for the program. Not a name to excite the fan base but perhaps one who can help shepherd the team through this turbulent period of change.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.